“With my sunglasses on, I’m Jack Nicholson. Without them, I’m fat and 60.”
Happy Birthday Jack Nicholson! One of the film industries most iconic stars turns 80 this week and he has stamped a legacy of quality that few, if any, will be able to match. To celebrate this legend of cinema, we take a look at 5 of his most iconic roles.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (Milos Forman, 1975)
Dan: This is my favourite of all time for many reasons, but the biggest reason is the acting. It’s mind blowing to look back and see this film not only starred Jack Nicholson, but also alongside him Brad Dourif (Child’s Play) Christopher Lloyd (Back to the Future 1-3) Danny DeVito (L.A. Confidential), and Scatman Crothers (The Shining) amongst a few others. Though it was Louise Fletcher who stole the show as the contemptible Nurse Ratched, Jack Nicholson is just as phenomenal as R.P. McMurphy. He just about displays every quality he would come to be revered for during the film, a lovable rogue who upsets the apple cart with his charm and zeal for mischief. Then as the film wears on he becomes worn, frustrated and angered leading him on a path to his eventual fate. It’s a performance with such an arc and array of emotion you don’t see it often, and even when you do it’s not as good his Nicholson’s performance.
A Few Good Men (Rob Reiner, 1992)
Dave: This is one of my all time favourite films. I can recite it, almost verbatum. Jack Nicolson only appears in 3 scenes but his shadow is cast throughout the whole film. Col. Nathan R. Jessup is a hard ass, career soldier, larger than life in every way and no other actor could bring him to life the way Nicolson did. There is a brilliant documentary on the dvd, where Rob Reiner tells a story of how Nicolson went all out on every take, even when they were shooting other actors. When told he didn’t need to as he wasn’t in the shot, he said he loved the material so much, he couldn’t help it. Aaron Sorkin’s script is wonderful and Nicolson delivers it with such a passion and relish. “You want the truth?” Well, this is a great film with an amazing supporting turn from a powerhouse performer. Unforgettable.
Chinatown (Roman Polanski, 1974)
Dave: Damn, this film is just so cool. Brilliantly shot, it remains Roman Polanski’s finest hour. Widley considered to be one of the greatest screenplays ever written, Chinatown is a leading example of modern film noir. Here, Nicolson is J.J. Gittes, a private investigator haunted by his past who is drawn into a murky plot surrounding a femme fatale, land deals and dark secrets. The film is just stunning and has aged really well. Nicolson is great, as he always is, but his on screen chemistry with Faye Dunaway really sizzles and the final reveal still has a impact 40 years on. I wrote a piece last year about cinema’s relationship with the P.I. (check it out here and here) in which Chinatown features heavily. One of the films the term classic was made for.
The Shining (Stanley Kubrick, 1980)
James: When it comes to cinema, there are some scenes that are referenced over and over again. The shower scene in Psycho. The Vader/Skywalker reveal. And of course… “Here’s Jonny” from The Shining. The wild eyed, volatile, psychologically broken Jack Torrance is one of the most memorable performances in the history of cinema. However, it’s the quieter moments that make this one of my favourite films. A film that was nominated for two Golden Raspberries on its release, although this is a horror film, it is really a Kubrick film, basically defying genre. The slow pace and prolonged may have dulled the stronger moral elements of Stephen King’s original novel, but it allowed Nicholson to deliver an all round performance for the ages.
Batman (Tim Burton, 1989)
Welshy: When the actor playing the villain over shadowed the titled character, you know you have something in said villain. Probably one of his most memorable roles, especially among the general fans. Nicholson combined the camp and colour of Cesar Romeo and blended it with his own sinister ferocity to create gangster Jack Napier, who becomes the Clown Prince of Crime. What made this so special to me was it adapted the origin story one of my favourite Graphic Novels ‘The Killing Joke’ By Allan Moore and adds a few exciting twists. Nicholson did brilliantly, I always found myself routing for the Joker, unlike other incantations that would follow which is purely down to the wit and stellar acting of Nichlson. and no I have never “danced with the devil in the pale moonlight”… it really does sound good.
What are your favourite Nicholson roles? The Departed? Mars Attacks? Little Shop of Horrors?
Until next time, stay gold, Ponyboy, stay gold. See you soonish.